‘It gives me goosebumps every time I think about it’: Ertz on verge of breaking Payson hits record


Payson Seymour center fielder Ashton Ertz has tied the program's career hits record held by former professional ballplayer Josh Cook. | Shane Hulsey photo

PAYSON, Ill. — Ashton Ertz and Josh Cook share more than just a record.

Ertz, a senior center fielder for the Payson Seymour baseball team, has 86 career hits. This mark puts him in a tie with Cook, a 1993 Payson Seymour graduate who spent time in the Houston Astros and New York Mets farm systems in 1997 and played four seasons in the independent Frontier League.

Ertz got off to a blazing start this season, batting .387 through 18 games with eight multi-hit performances. After an April 22 game against Rushville-Industry in which he went 2 for 4 to get within four hits of tying Cook’s record, Ertz posted an update on his pursuit of the record to his X account. After he did, Ertz received a message from a familiar name.

“Josh went out of his way to personally message me and say congratulations,” Ertz said.

Ertz and Cook had crossed paths before, though Ertz didn’t realize at the time the place Cook held in Payson Seymour baseball lore. When Ertz was 13 years old, he played on the same travel baseball team — the Quincy Crush — as Cook’s son Cayden.

“I didn’t even know (Josh) played minor league baseball until my eighth grade year when I started doing research on Payson baseball, and I realized, ‘Man, he played for the Astros, and that dude was really good,’” Ertz said. “If I had found that out earlier, I probably would have asked for his autograph, but I didn’t know any better.”

Cook admitted he had a revelation himself, though much more recently — he didn’t even know he had the hits record until he saw Ertz’s post.

“All I really remember about my senior year of baseball were rainouts and sandbagging,” Cook said. “This has been a bit of a learning experience and a moment of reflection for me.”

Ertz said being mentioned in the same breath as players like Cook gives him perspective on just how big of a deal this record is.

“It gives me goosebumps every time I think about it,” Ertz said. “To know that I’m up there with some of the top dogs from this area, it’s pretty cool to think about.”

As if chasing down a 31-year-old record held by a former professional ballplayer wasn’t enough pressure, Ertz has to face some heckling every morning about it.

“Every day I walk into school, my first hour teacher (Nick Holtschlag), he’ll be like, ‘Did you break the record yet?’ and I’ll be like ‘Man, the game got rained out yesterday,’ or something like that,” Ertz said. “And he’s like ‘Dude, you’ve got to break it soon,’ and I’m like ‘I know.’”

That only adds motivation for Ertz to surpass Cook.

“It’s hard to hear some of my teammates talk about it,” Ertz said. “It makes me want to break it even more.”

Ertz admitted sometimes the pursuit wears on him at the plate, and Indians coach Brenton Hannel sees it as well. Since that torrid 18-game stretch to begin the year, Ertz has gone hitless in four of seven games and has just one multi-hit game in that stretch.

“It’s bearing down on him,” Hannel said. “I told him, ‘Hey, you’ve got it tied. You’re going to be a record holder. Just go out and have fun.’ If he gets the solo record, that would be neat, but I think it’s had an effect on him this year.”

Despite racking up a record-tying number of hits, Ertz is no stranger to struggles at the plate during his high school career. In his sophomore season, Ertz had just 10 hits and batted .227.

“All I wanted to do was hit home runs,” Ertz said. “I was just swinging as hard as I possibly could every single time, and I broke down.”

Ertz knew he had the goods to be a special player, so he went to work to prove himself right. He spent almost the entire offseason working with Quincy University assistant coach Chandler Purcell to get himself to the level he knew he was capable of.

“We spent hours and hours in the cage perfecting my swing,” Ertz said. “I spent hours in the gym. I wanted to show my family that everything they’ve done for me wasn’t a mistake. I wanted to show that I was the right man for the job.”

All Ertz did his junior season was hit .434 with 33 hits.

“I realized I wasn’t a power hitter,” Ertz said. “I’m more of just an on-base type guy. If I hit some balls hard, they’re going to go out, but I’m just not a guy that’s going to smack balls over the fence, so I just worked on staying through the ball and being calm at the plate.”

That approach has put him in a position to make history. He will have at least one more chance to take sole possession of the Payson Seymour career hits record when the Indians play host to Southeastern at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the first round of the Class 1A Liberty Regional.

“Hopefully I go 3 for 3 and we go play West Central on Thursday,” Ertz said.

If this happens, Cook will proudly surrender the throne.

“Records are meant to be broken, and if it’s come time to pass that torch, Ashton has most certainly put in the work to deserve that crown,” Cook said.

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